Reviews for Little Eyes

by Samanta Schweblin

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

The internationally acclaimed author of Fever Dream (2017) posits the launch of a new fad in this daring and original speculative novel. People around the world have become fixated on "kentucki:" small, motorized stuffed animals that are powered by anonymous strangers. Neither the keeper (the owner of and caretaker for the kentucki) nor the dweller (the person who controls the kentucki from another location) knows the other's identity; they're anonymous strangers from different lands. They're not intended to communicate; there's no microphone in the kentuckis. And yet this doesn't stop the keepers and dwellers from becoming invested in each other's lives, or finding a way to reach out to each other. A trio of teenage girls are blackmailed by the person powering the kentucki belonging to one of them. The bored girlfriend of a feckless artist takes out her rage on her kentucki. An older woman in Lima worries about the brutish new boyfriend of the owner of her kentucki. Schweblin deftly explores both the loneliness and casual cruelty that can inform our attempts to connect in this modern world.

Publishers Weekly
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Schweblin (Fever Dream) unfurls an eerie, uncanny story of Furby-like robots that roll around and make animal sounds, connecting people throughout the world in unsettling ways. The dolls, called kentuki, are equipped with cameras and separate controllers, and their ownership is split between “keepers” and “dwellers.” The keeper purchases a doll, while the dweller buys its controller and watches through the kentuki’s camera via the internet. Schweblin catapults through a dizzying array of vignettes. Marvin, a boy in Antigua, secretly buys a kentuki “dweller” controller using his mother’s savings. In South Bend, Ind., Robin and two of her friends conduct cam shows with their kentuki before the dweller begins spelling out increasingly alarming and sexual demands on the girls’ Ouija board. Emilia, a lonely woman in Lima, quickly takes on the dweller role with Eva, a woman in Germany, who buys dog toys and other pet distractions for Emilia to play with via the kentuki. Daring, bold, and devious, the idea fascinates despite the underdeveloped narrative, and the disparate vignettes fail to build toward a satisfying conclusion. Schweblin’s take on the erosion of privacy and new forms of digital connection yields an ingenious concept, but the sum is less than its parts. (May)

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A nuanced exploration of anonymous connection and distant intimacy in our heavily accessible yet increasingly isolated lives. Schweblin, a canny observer of both the better and less-savory angels of our nature, asks: Would you rather be a "keeper," inviting an unknown observer into your home to view your daily routines and private habits through the camera eyes of a "kentuki," a kind of fuzzy robot animal companion and the latest technocraze, or would you prefer to be a "dweller," the anonymous controller on the other end, rolling on little rubber wheels through the life of a stranger? Kentukis take the form of animals—crows, dragons, and most aptly, moles; they're slickly packaged, expensive, desirable, and have the capacity for only a single connection. We spy on a number of these transglobal connections, some brief, as with the Barcelona nursing home director who buys kentukis for his residents, while others span months and are followed throughout the book. One such relationship begins with a dweller in Lima, who displaces the maternal feelings she can't seem to connect to her adult son onto a young German woman, a keeper, whose abundant affection for her rabbit kentuki gives the Lima woman a sense of belonging. As happens with many new technologies we blithely attach to our lives, few users have really considered the potential consequences of the arrangement before entering into it. But everything imaginable happens through kentukis—adventure, love, rejection, extortion, exploitation, and even more inventive depravities. As the firecracker ending reminds us, with our real and virtual lives increasingly blurred, any one of those moments could be our own. Capacious, touching, and disquieting, this is not-so-speculative fiction for an overnetworked and underconnected age. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal
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Battery-driven, camera-equipped stuffed animals with their own chargers, kentuki are not toys. From crow to bunny to mole, each is decidedly someone—some mysterious observer—with whom its so-called keeper builds a relationship. As they roll around asserting themselves from Lima to Umbertide to South Bend, kentuki unsettle the lives of the various characters whose stories are woven together here, from restless Alina, accompanying her artist boyfriend to Oaxaca on his first big grant, to the divorced Enzo, compelled by an overbearing psychologist to take on one of these creepy critters for the sake of his son, who hates the thing. As situations escalate, readers will be fascinated by the kentuki-human interactions, which smartly reveal how hungry we are for connection in a technology-bent world. VERDICT Of a piece with Schweblin's elliptical Fever Dream and the disturbing story collection A Mouthful of Birds, both runners-up for the Man Booker International Prize, this jittery eye-opener will appeal to a wide range of readers.